Words of Wisdom:

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Shooting an Elephant

  • Date Submitted: 05/24/2011 05:06 PM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 49.9 
  • Words: 1207
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A sub-divisional police officer of Moulemein, a town in lower Burma, Orwell takes a seemingly minor incident-shooting an elephant that has caused destruction throughout the town-and uses it to illustrate the evils of imperialism. Through the use of specific examples and straightforward, clear language, Orwell concludes that “when the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys.”
Orwell is introduced to the readers as feeling out of place and futile in a place where “anti-European feeling was very bitter” (125). He employs specific examples to illustrate the tormenting of Europeans by the Burmese people; in one instance, he is tripped by a Burman man while playing football, and the crowd proceeds to roar with “hideous laughter” (125). Orwell clearly displays his hatred for the Burmese, particularly the young Buddhist priests, who were the “worst of all” (125), and his feeling of helplessness as an official who was supposed to be able to control them. Ironically, although he is supposed be of a high position in the town, he is constantly jeered at and insulted by those over whom he should have power.
Despite his antipathy towards the Burmese people, however, Orwell also sympathizes with him. In a very explicit, straightforward passage, he describes his hatred for imperialism. In a plain cumulative sentence, Orwell states that “imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better.” There is no ornate diction and no sophisticated syntax; he is explicitly stating his abhorrence of imperialism. He goes on to use detailed imagery to describe the “dirty work of [the] Empire” (126)-prisoners in stinking cages, grey faces of convicts, and scarred buttocks of men who had been flocked with bamboo appeal to the emotions of the reader and allow them to understand Orwell’s utter hatred of imperialism. Even with this hatred, however, Orwell is torn between his contempt for the tyrants and the tyrannized. He claims to be...

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